THE scam in Assams veterinary and animal husbandry department first came to light in 1993 when the state finance department discovered excess withdrawal from various treasuries across the state. Alarmed at the development, the Hiteswar Saikia government asked K.S. Rao, then additional chief secretary, to probe the matter. Rao discovered that fraudulent withdrawal in excess of Rs 200 crore had taken place in the veterinary and animal husbandry department aloneall between 1986 and 1992.
The state government promptly referred the fraud, which popularly came to be known as the LoC (letter of credit) scam, to the CBI even as 56 officials and several contractors were found to be involved in the fraudulent deals.
The one-man inquiry committee discovered that the system evolved by the culprits to hoodwink the government was rather simple. Since all state government payments are made by treasuries after receiving LoCs from respective departments, the racketeers forged the LoCs by involving officials from all departments concerned. The beneficiaries ranged from top political leaders of both the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Congress to officers and workers in various departments.
The CBI, which was given charge of 12 cases, began investigating in 1994 and unearthed a large network. It made the first arrests in May 1995 when Rajen Bora, believed to be the mastermind of the scam, was picked up along with three others. The four were arrested after the CBI established that they had floated several fictitious firms and siphoned off large sums of money through false LoCs.
Bora, a former field assistant in the veterinary department, accumulated so much wealth in a short span that he launched two daily newspapers, acquired at least two hotels in the heart of Guwahati and bought flats in Mumbai, all within a six-year period. Bora and his associates made their biggest killing on the Integrated Cattle Development Project at Demow in upper Assams Sibsagar district. A single payment of Rs 63.37 crore was made to Bora and his partners for construction that never took place. This was made possible due to collusion at every level of the administration. Bora has also proved to be a political acrobat, joining ruling combines whenever it suited him.
Meanwhile, the CBI has filed charge-sheets in two of the 12 cases it has been entrusted with. Chargesheets have been filed in the Sonari and Goalpara cases against 33 accused. Investigations into the Haflong treasury case and the Demow case are reportedly in their final stages. Interestingly, the CBI is assessing the properties of at least three former ministers. They are Dilip Saikia Sonowal and Barki Prasad Telenga of the AGP and Nakul Das of the Congress. Saikia Sonowal, veterinary minister for some time in the AGP ministry between 1985 and 1990, was reportedly gifted two flats in Mumbai by Bora.